Canada rebounds to join hunt for most gold medals
By: By David Crary, AP National Writer, Superior Telegram
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Just days after conceding it wouldn't win the most Olympic medals overall, Canada — led by its women — has come surging back and now has a chance to finish with the biggest haul of gold.
The powerful women's hockey team beat the United States 2-0 late Thursday afternoon to win Canada's eighth gold medal — its most ever in any Winter Olympics — and tie Germany and the U.S. for the lead in these games. The capacity crowd cheering on the women included hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Excellent chances remain for the host country over the final few days. The men's hockey team is favored in its semifinal Friday against Slovakia, some strong skaters compete in short track Friday night, and the men's and women's curling teams won their semifinals Thursday to advance to gold-medal matches.
Just a few days earlier, Canada figuratively waved the white flag, acknowledging that it would not catch the United States in the overall medal count. That had been the explicit goal of an unprecedented $117 million, five-year program called Own The Podium, which invested public and private dollars into developing medal contenders.
Any sense of gloom lifted on Wednesday, one of the best days in Canadian Olympic history, when Canadian women won four medals — one of them gold — and the men's hockey team trounced archrival Russia 7-3 in a must-win quarterfinal.
Chris Rudge, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, referred to those triumphs as "perhaps the redemption of the soul of a nation."
"There's been amongst people in Canada, amongst the media and others, a collective angst," he said Thursday. "Those of us close to the athletes and the athletes themselves always believed in what we were going to do here.
"We will look back on these games as having been a wonderful accomplishment for sport, a wonderful accomplishment for a nation that's pulled together to provide our athletes the kind of support they've never had before."
Four years ago in Turin, Canada had its best overall Winter Games, finishing third with 24 medals — two-thirds of them accounted for by women, according to Rudge.
So far in these games, women have won 11 of Canada's 15 medals, with Tessa Virtue sharing a 12th — a gold — with her ice dancing partner Scott Moir.
"I think it speaks very wonderfully to the gender equity and support we bring to high-level accomplishment in sport in Canada," said Rudge. "It's not about male or female. ... It's about the best athletes who have the big dreams and giving them the chance to be the best that they can be."
Speedskater Clara Hughes, who was Canada's flagbearer at the opening ceremony, told reporters she had visited many countries where female athletes get far less support than their male counterparts.
"In Canada, it's unconditional," she said. "I've felt really lucky to be on the receiving end of that."
Hughes, 37, ended her Olympic career Wednesday with a bronze medal in the 5,000-meters, and spoke emotionally about how she felt before and during her last big race.
"I just felt free," she said Thursday. "To have 6,000 people screaming for you, pushing for you, it makes you feel literally like you have wings."